Murphy’s Law

Josie Leavitt - August 29, 2011

It does seem to work out that the minute a crazy day starts to slow down significantly, I am often alone in the store, and then it gets really, really busy. Friday was such a day.
My day started with a quick breakfast meeting with my Chronicle rep who was racing to get back home for a memorial service. The speed of the meeting set the tone for the rest of the day. Customers filled the store in the morning, all in some sort of hurry. Books were slapped down on the counter by one over-caffeinated person after another. “Goofy. It’s just a goofy day.” That’s how JP, our stalwart morning staffer. explained the tenor of the day.
Things slowed down considerably after 1 p.m. We received distributor orders, shelved, called special orders and generally got a ton done in the lull of the day. JP had offered to stay if things got busy, but I sent her home the end of her shift at 2 p.m. Things were quiet for an hour or so, and thought the best of the day was behind us. I was secretly grateful because vacation schedules left us shorthanded and I was alone, confident I could handle the day.
Boy was I wrong. Something happened at 3:30. One person came in, then another and another and another and still more. There was a moment when I just started chuckling to myself as I looked around at all the people. I was literally sprinting to get the phone. I triaged the customers: who needed immediate help, who just needed to know what section to browse in, who needed to get rung up, who needed something wrapped? Why is it whenever I’m alone and the store is busy, everyone, and I mean everyone, wants not just one book, but all their books wrapped? A mom even had me wrap three games she bought as Christmas presents! One kindly customer actually came around the counter and wrapped her own books because the line at the register was too long.
Often during these rushes someone calls who just doesn’t want to get off the phone, even after the info has been shared, the book ordered, etc. I find myself wanting to shoot myself during these moments, as I find my head pulsing with the number of people needing my attention.  Eventually,  I can extricate myself from the call and get back to the live bodies in the store.
Staffers will often say, “Call me if you get slammed.” I never call because invariably by the time they come back to work, the need for them has abated. I’ve only called once and that was when 30 people descended on the store at once. And of course, by the time the generous staffer showed, the people had all but gone.
This pace continued right up to closing. I was as exhilarated as I was exhausted. I drove home smiling.

2 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law

  1. Carol B. Chittenden

    You have the inverse of my problem, which is known here as The Vacuum Effect: when I leave the store, the customers rush in. When I return, it’s invariably to a harried staff that says, “What a rush! You just missed it.” I have tried using this to our advantage by staying home, but apparently that’s too transparent for the Bookstore Fates. Drat!

  2. Luan Stauss

    Ah the joys of working alone! I have a whole list of mental rules for those days. Take large bites of lunch because that’s how people know when to call. Put the “back in 5” sign up only after it’s been quiet because that’s when people line up at the door. Hide the tape so that everyone wants their book wrapped. And on…


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